Israel and Iran

Over the course of the last year one thing occurred frequently that surprised me. I met former Israelis who had left Israel for Canada and America. Every single one of them said they had left for two main reasons: the country is losing it’s secular roots and they were all sick of the war against the Palestinians–some blamed recalcitrance on the Palestinians and others blamed Israel itself. I met at least a dozen such people on my trip. That may not seem like a lot, but think about it this way: what is the population of Israel? It isn’t high. Still, it’s not a scientific sample. And yet, I was struck by this comment in Roger Cohen’s piece on Iran about what Israel’s real red line is:

Israel, which sees an existential threat in a nuclear Iran, has made clear that its patience is limited. The Ross team does not think Israelis are bluffing. They believe Israel views Iran in life-and-death terms. Israeli officials have argued that they don’t believe Iran would ever be crazy enough to nuke them but do believe the change in the balance of power with a nuclear or near-nuclear Iran could be so decisive that Jews would begin to leave Israel.

Cohen’s line says a lot.

One of my biggest regrets over the course of the last year was not being able to return to Iran. I did try, but the being an American, one is required to have a Ministry approved tour-guide with you at all times. This was not prohibitively expensive when I traveled there in 2006 with my father. It’s less costly to split the price for two than it is one. And so I was unable to return. My friends in Meshed and Tehran are fairly involved in the protests, or so at least they email me on a regular basis. I wish I were there to see it all first hand. I can only relate how serious about reform they were when I met them in 2006. I can only imagine it is more urgent now.

Another one of my regrets was missing Israel. I do have a standing invitation from friends in Tel Aviv and I hope to visit in October for my birthday. We shall see.

Melaque Diario, Julio 30 2009: Nada

I’ve got nothing today except shoulders that feel like rubber bands, arms floppy like the tentacles of a dead octopus and chest muscles so sore it’s hard to lift the coffee cup.

I did get a text from ‘Trisquit’ this morning. It read: “Found crew with tractor. Truck is out. See you soon.” He goes on to mention something about an RV. An RV? God help me.

I did have a Crash Davis moment last night. But that would be too colorful for a family blog, no?

Melaque Diario, Julio 28 2009: Chorizo, Greg Louganis and Chasing Demons

MariachiFrom the Travel Journal, dated July 28, 2009:

Meditated on the beach this morning. Nothing quite like the sound of the surf coming in, each whoosh, slurp and crash, the ripples of the water on sand, the scratching sounds clear the mind. After four decadent days finding my center was critical. The waves came in threes: swell, curl and crash. Swell, curl and crash. Swell, curl and crash. Soon I was walking down a road in China or maybe India. Then I was worrying about problems at home. Breathe, I heard Master Ma tell me. The images dissipate. Breath. A bit of water sprays me, I sit motionless. The sun is rising and I feel the warmth. The sounds of the morning grow louder as I breath. Now like the waves, breath, hold, exhale. Swell, curl and crash. The moment ripples out like the water. All is quiet.

Then Reyes slaps me on the back.

“Guero, time to surf!”

I inhabit the moment, smile at him, my anger fades quickly. Swell, curl and crash. Grab the board and paddle out.

Reyes disappears, again.

And yet, after breakfast–a delicious breakfast of chorizo and eggs–I sank back into self-pity. I had meant to work yesterday, but got sidetracked. (That’s easy to do here and I was a willing participant.) What would Master Ma say to that? Might he say, “it’s good you got sidetracked! Now you can get back on the path.” He takes all things as they are. When will I?

I went back to the hotel room. Tried to write. Read for a while. Went out to check the surf. Wow, waves in mid-day? Saw a swell half a kilometer long, swell, curl and crash.

“Fuck this,” I thought, “I would rather chase my demons out there than sit here and have them chase me.”

There is no better cure for self-pity than getting battered, keel-hauled, twisted and pounded by two meter waves.

*****

Afterwards I sat on the orange-golden sands of the beach and watched a blond in a tiny string bikini wade into the surf. She’s going to lose that top in these waves, I thought.

Three minutes later she emerges from the water without her top. The joys of Mexico.

The beach is mostly empty today, however. It’s Tuesday. Everything is closed today. Six pelicans glide over the swells, wheel and then settle in the water. How can such an ungainly looking bird land so elegantly?

Reyes showed up around two.

“Hey man, you should have seen me out there today,” I said, “I was Greg Louganis: all cartwheels, somersaults, flips, belly-flops and back flips. I owned the waves in an hilarious way.”

He looked at me with irritation in his eyes.

“You are a clown!”

“And?”

“You’re not taking this seriously, Pablito.”

“Why should I? It’s not like you are, either, running up and down the Jalisco Coast like a randy goat.”

The crack of a smile emerged. “Hey,” I said, “I saw it. You’re smiling! Look, Reyes,” I went on, “Trisquit will be here tonight or tomorrow. And let me disabuse you of any seriousness from that point forward. When he arrives cataclysmic mayhem will erupt. You know it’s true!”

“La puebla es jodido.”

“You already said that.”

“It needs repeating,” he said.

“True.”

“You realize, Pablito, if he an Barton get going we may very well never leave Mexico!”

“Oh hell,” I said, “if Barton shows Trisquit his collection of guns we’ll probably end up joining SubCommandante Marcos down in Chiapas.”

“I should call the Federales and warn them now, no?”

“Maybe,” I said shaking my head at the thought of those two together, “it’s best if you and Barton head down to Pascuales before Trisquit arrives and stay until he leaves. I’ll join you after. Just say Barton’s stuck on the plantation.” I winked at him.

“You’re bad, SP,” Reyes said, getting the hint.

“But good too. There isn’t an excuse in the world I can’t conjure to delay the inevitable, no?”

“Let no man ever say your bullshit could not be put to good use,” he smiled.

“My father taught me well. He should have been a politician. He can wiggle out of anything.”

*****

“Reyes” I said seriously, “remind me. . . ”

“What, Pablito,” he said, a wave sliding over our feet.

“Remind me to do this more often, okay? I spend too much time being serious, lost in my head. It’s good to act like a child from time to time.”

Reyes looked at me with sympathy, sympathy born of many tragedies and joys shared.

“Sean Paul,” he said, “I can read your moods like these waves.” He pointed out into the bay. “I’ve never seen someone so free and confident about his place in the world, as when you returned. But I’ve never seen someone so bewildered by the loss of a dream well-lived, either.” He grasped my shoulder. “You needed this,” he said and pushed me into the water. But not before yelling, “and if you don’t finish that book I’ll kick your ass!”

Lazy Days . . .

The skies are blue. The weather is cooperating. It was supposed to rain. But it hasn’t. I’m pretty beat up today, but I’m going to walk around the bay, probably over to Barra, the village on the other side and take photos. So, hopefully there will be another photo dump this evening. The waves haven’t been so good the last two days and they weren’t swelling at all this morning. Well, enough to wake me up, but that is by the by.

I don’t know where Reyes is. But I imagine he’s okay.

Our buddy ‘Trisquit’ is lost somewhere between Hermosillo and Culiacan. He’s driving down from California. We expect him tomorrow. He did call. It was filled with nasty curses about Mexican drivers and something about a donkey. He probably ran into one on the way and had to pay the farmer off. I’d not put that past Trisquit, ever.

We’ll spend two more days here, then head into the jungle for a night or two at another friend’s papaya and banana plantation. Then it is off to Pascuales. I hope I am ready. But if the waves are too big, I simply won’t surf. Reyes says I’m a wimp. Maybe. But I don’t have a death wish. The idea of a cement truck full of water crashing down on my head doesn’t thrill me terribly much. No?

I did note the headlines of the local paper this morning: all Mexico is in an uproar about the “programma austeridad (sp?)” the government is pushing through. All is fun and games here on the beach. But there is a very real economic crisis ongoing in Mexico, as Nat’s posts have made abundantly clear. I’ll try to follow the news a bit more closely and talk to some locals about it. One cannot surf all day long.

Que suerte, no?

Melaque Diario, Julio 26 2009: La Vida Buena

Puro MelaqueBy one o’clock the clouds began to burn off. The waters, chameleon-like, morphed from gray-green to turquoise. The camel back island in the bay radiated orange and white. A sailboat slid into the mercury waters of the bay like a triangular ghost. It was Sunday. Many families had packed up to head home–ending their weekend getaway. But then the beach filled up again.

A bikini clad woman runs across the beach. Reyes hoots. “You are such a cad,” I say.

“Soy Mexicano,” Pablito. “It is my right to be a cad.”

A lone mariachi robed in linen sings, “no mas para mi,” to the family sitting next to us. A song about how he lost his heart (and his money) in the barrio of Monterrey.

The father of two lovely 15 year-olds asks him if he knows this song, or that song. The mariachi sings anew. The father and mother are singing along. The daughters blush, like teenagers all over the world, as the father lifts his cerveza in the air and tips it back. They ‘shush’ him, but are clearly enjoying it too.

“Reyes,” I said. “Trisquit just called. He’ll be here tomorrow.”

“Madre de dios! La puebla es jodido!”

A raven headed goddess walks down the beach. (Something one does not see in Turkey.) “It’s a good thing you’re sitting down, Pablito,” Reyes says. “No iron poles to smash into.”

“I’d find one. Trust me.”

By three o’clock the sun was giggling at me. The clouds blew out into the Pacific as cerulean skies returned.

“Pablito,” Reyes exclaimed. “Stop drinking. Surf is gonna be mas bueno this evening.”

“No shit?”

“Es verdad.”

“Carlonia,” I yelled at the waitress. “No mas tequila para mi. El mar llamate me!”

“Claro,” she yipped. “No mas tequila por Juan Pablo y Reyes.”

“Hey, what the fuck?” he said. “I’m the one who is allowed to drink and surf.”

“Not today. After the crap you pulled last night? Your privileges have been pulled.”

“Oye, pendejo, la Virgen de Guadalupe, I swear you will pay.”

“I just did.”

“Huh?” said Reyes, swaying a bit too much, reaching for his board.

“I paid the tab,” I said.

“Good idea.”

But Reyes was wrong, so we returned to the bar early in the evening. Carlos, a gray-haired, short, fair-skinned Mexican and I got to talking about life in Turkey and Mexico. He’s known as the ‘philosopher of Melaque.’

“La vida cara in Turciya?” he asked.

“No, not expensive. In the mountains and the countryside it’s like Mexico. But in Istanbul? Poquito cara,” I said.

“And the water? What’s it like?” Carlos asked me.

“El mar des Turcos es azul ondo como los ojos de Russa,” I said. (The sea of the Turks is deep blue like the eyes of a Russian woman.)

“Holy shit,” said Reyes, “that was good.”

I turned around, raised my glass and winked.

“But you still can’t surf, gringo.”

By ten that evening my Spanish had improved immensely. Carlos and I were discussing the relative merits of which conch shell makes the best horn. We were trying three different ones out.

“How you feeling Pablito,” Reyes yelled from across the bar, arms wrapped around a bikini clad Latina. How does such a revolting looking man do it? I think to myself, and then reply:

“Yo nado en el mar de tequila y cerveza. Y tu?”

*****

It’s now Monday morning.

“Cut it with the water,” I moaned at Reyes. And then the surf washed over me and I realized that I fell asleep on the beach. Then I remembered everything else.

I stumbled up the steps into the hotel. The owner greeted me, “Como estas Juan Pablo,” he said.

“La buena vida, Tio,” I said and walked off in search of my room.

Basin And Range

First Class BusThe moment the bus pulled south of San Antonio my eyes grew happy. Movement. Seeing. Even if it was a withering brown nothingness.

I put my book away and whipped out my notepad.

“Good to know old habits die hard,” said Reyes. “I bet that’s what you did the entire trip across Saudi Arabia?”

“Turkey, Reyes. I was in Turkey. And India. And Thailand.”

“They’re all Muslims to me, hermano.”

“Not only are you ugly, but you’re ignorant,” I shot back.

“At least my momma loves me,” he said.

“Jesus,” I said.

“Yes, how can I help you?”

“Look, I know that’s your name, but I said Jesus, not he-soos.”

“I answer to both.”

“Shut up.”

Two hours outside of Laredo the land cut up. Oxidized road cuts. Strange cube-like stones. Distant glassy peaks filled the background. Brambles and huisache, mesquite and spidery ocotillos reached up from the thirsty desert floor. Senderos rode out, hazy in the cactus flats.

We pulled into Monterrey. Reyes attempted a feeble joke about the local ‘beisbol’ team.

“What is it with Mexican’s and ‘beisbol,’ Pablito?” He said. “We should stick with ‘futbol.’

“We beat you. And Spain,” I said.

“Puta.”

“We still beat you.”

*****

Twenty minutes outside of Monterrey the mountains galloped up from the earth. Here was thrust, uplift, erosion–a living orogeny of ribs wandering up and down the hillsides. Peaks danced in the glinting light. Outcrops winked silvery and green. The late afternoon sun splashing across the horizon.

And then we crept into the flat desert floor–peaks scattered miles away like pebbles–filled with scare-crow cactuses, like awkward crucifixes. The sun set.

I sighed deeply, drinking in the last light in of the basin and range.

“Reyes,” I said, “it’s good to be on the road again.”

“Si, Pablito, it’s nice to see you smile.”

Swimwear Fail

Bahia NavidadA short tale is in order to give you an idea how serious the water and currents are here. It’s one thing to sit on the beach and watch the surf come rolling in, watch the swell rise up the beach for half a kilometer and down it for another two hundred yards. It’s another thing to see the curl begin down the beach and then hear it break. It’s like the roar of fifty diesel engines revving up all at once. And then to see a semi-swell crash right into the wave that just broke, sending spray twenty feet up into the air. Seeing the turquoise waters turn into a raging froth of white is viscerally powerful.

But this morning while out in the surf I missed a wave. Again! My board jackknifed into the air. I was too busy trying to fight the undertow and trying to miss the incoming projectile to realize that the water had ripped my shorts clean off.

Talk about hysterical!

Thank God–she does have a wicked sense of humor, however–Reyes was close at hand. He promptly went to get me some new shorts.

“It’s happened to me before, güero,” he told me. “You’re lucky I’m hungover. Otherwise I’d make you do it.”

Like I said, God has a sense of humor.

All in a morning’s work, no?

Not So Epic Fail

Bahia De NavidadThis morning’s surf session was rough. It may sound like fun and games, but as I wrote earlier, I’ve never seen waves like this. The first time I’d ever surfed was in Mazatlan back in 2007. Positively tame compared to these waters. Managing a six or seven foot swell, paddling a board and trying to get up is a full body work-out. After the morning session–mind you I was just off the bus, and hadn’t slept much in anticipation–I was exhausted. Our room was sweltering, sweat dripping from my temples even after two cold showers. I laid on the bed, soaking wet. Reyes, my buddy from Austin who’s from the area just laughed at me. He tends to do that a lot. He’s short, squat and very much has the indio look going on.

“You are a total gringo wimp, Juan Pablo, I grew up on these waters. I’m ready for more, and look at you?”

“Look, pendejo,” I said, “this is the first honest exercise I’ve had in months, other than boxing last weekend with Cauliflower Ears and getting the shit beat out of me.”

“Huero, I have news for you: Pascuales is gonna kill you then. This is just conditioning!”

“Ughhh,” I groaned. “Can I just stop being dizzy, dickwad?”

“Wimp. You stay here. I’m going for a drink,” he said, “and you’re not invited.” The door slammed and I slept.

An hour later Reyes burst into the room, “Juan Pablo, I’m back!”

“You don’t say?”

“Meet Julio and Brandon,” he said.

“Mucho gusto,” I said.

“Doood,” the two teenagers replied in unison.

“You speak English?” I asked.

“No habla Engles, dood,” Julio replied and Reyes interjected, “they’re going to surf with us and teach you.”

“I thought that was your job?”

“Hell with that, I’m having too much fun to look after you.”

“Touching. You shouldn’t have.”

He smiled. “No kidding pendejo! Grab your board. Let’s go.”

“Fuck me.”

“That’s the idea.”

We walked the 200 meters to the beach. Off we went. The waves were two-thirds to half the size they were earlier so I felt better about actually getting up on the board this time. After my third attempt I managed a soft glide, tried to turn, twisted and careened right into the break. Ouch. But not so bad.

Two more attempts met with failure. Irritating. And panting like a beat dog.

And then a nice swell rolled in. I’d been hunting this one all day. I called Reyes off, paddled in and off I went. I was up. Nice. Made for a turn. Misjudged the curl. Thrashed by a three foot wave. Did an epic mid air cartwheel. Head first into the surf. Sand in my nose. Sand in my ears. Salt water in my eyes.

The entire beach laughed at my pyrotechnic gymnastics. Had I not been gagged and bleary eyed I would have laughed too.

Reyes road in and finally managed to stop laughing.

I looked up at him with salty, blood shot eyes.

“Can I have that drink now?” I asked.

“Si, se puede,” he said, laughing all the way down the beach.

The Adventure Continues

Tomorrow, if the muse permits, I’m off to Mexico. To be specific, a seedy little surfer’s village on the Pacific Coast where the waves are fierce, the locals dissolute and the scenery unforgettable. It’s about a 24 hour trip by bus–Monterrey, Guadalajara, up over the mountains and down to coast. The camera and my beat up, trusty old MacBookPro will be in tow.

The return journey will take me back to Taxco and then Mexico City to see some art by Diego Rivera.

The Road To Perdition

Sean Paul shook his head. “How’d it come to this? Again!”

The tall drink o’ water grabbed his hand. “You’ll dance and you’ll like it,” she said.

Seamus grinned at Reyes and said, “she’s gwan ta bollix ‘em up isn’t she?”

Reyes sighed. “At this rate we’ll never see Mexico, and I need more tequila!”

On that note Sean Paul walked off down the road to perdition.